Thomas Tallis School in Greenwich had 60 year 8 (11 and 12-year-old) students complete the assignment as part of their study of Shakespeare's play Macbeth.
While the classes were not asked to write personal suicide notes, rather a note from Lady Macbeth to Macbeth, parents say the exercise was distressing to their children, some of whom have had friends take their own lives.One mother said the assignment had been incredibly upsetting for her young daughter, who had previously had to go through three of her friends take their own lives.
“On what universe was it ever a good idea to ask a group of teenagers to write suicide notes?” She told the local newspaper, News Shopper.
“At least two classes have done this assignment. My daughter is very outspoken but there are other kids (who are) not as vocal who might be suffering from depression.”
Following the outrage, the school posted an apology from the headmaster on its Facebook page.
"You may have seen a news item recently that refers to an incident in an English lesson at Tallis," it started.
“A parent contacted us with concerns about a written exercise given to a class during studies of a play by Shakespeare. The exercise was given to a class who had been studying Macbeth as part of a year 8 English lesson."
“The exercise was to write a suicide letter from Lady Macbeth to Macbeth explaining her decision to kill herself. The exercise is a well-known method for getting students to understand this dramatic twist in the play."
“We appreciate that the exercise was upsetting to the family and have discussed the subject matter and approach with teaching staff. I met with the parent last week and apologised wholeheartedly on behalf of the school and reassured them about the actions that have been taken. The parent accepted the apology in a meeting that was friendly and cordial."
“We care deeply about the emotional wellbeing of our students and of course wish no distress to be caused to any of our students - all we can do is hold discussions and debates on topics such as these in a supportive and sensitive way. Had we been aware of any students who would have found the exercise upsetting then we would of course have taken a different approach. We have listened to the concerns raised by this debate and will not run the exercise again."
“I apologise again, for any distress that this may have caused to the family.”
This article first published on Marie Claire.